Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aussie delivers heavy themes with a splash

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THE Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, a theatrical expedition from Australia, surprises for the depths that it reaches.

Kids, of course, are the target audience of the latest Manitoba Theatre for Young People presentation, but the whimsical, immersive story will also make a bit of a splash with their parents. Both groups will be enthralled by the one-man futurist fairytale's inventive, old-school presentation made possible by unobtrusive, sophisticated technology.

Audience attention is focused on a screen sporting a large white circle -- reflecting perhaps the view through a classic metal diving helmet -- on which is projected the animated parts of Alvin's odyssey. The screen is flanked by two small tables on which engaging, Perth-based performer Sam Longley interacts with the projections, effortlessly completing seamless transitions between the black-and-white animation and live action.

Written by fellow Aussie Tim Watts, Alvin Sputnik follows two plotlines that involve the story's unlikely-looking hero, who is depicted as an internally lit white orb whose appendages are represented by Longley's white-gloved splayed hand.

As we meet Alvin, his soggy world is coming to an end and not only because the Earth is drowning in the rising oceans that have left the few survivors huddled atop the highest mountains and skyscrapers. His wife has died and he has watched her spirit sink into the deep. When a bushy-mustachioed general at Earth HQ calls for volunteers to attempt a suicide deep-sea mission in the hopes of discovering a new world for mankind out of the Earth's core, he gladly takes the plunge. Heartbroken Alvin is really more intent on finding his wife's soul.

His dive -- more than 20,000 leagues under the sea -- takes up most of the 45-minute tale, seen at a school performance this week ahead of Friday's public opening. The tiny adventurer in animation encounters hungry whales and spectacular jellyfish, occasionally swimming into cute live-action scenes, one of which involves his discovery of a disco ball at which he breaks into The Hustle, a la John Travolta. The ending is not exactly happy, but will be more emotionally resonant for adults than young people.

Longley, dressed all in black with a lit microphone illuminating his face, exhibits a serene demeanour on stage but controls every image of Alvin Sputnik through a laptop computer and Nintendo Wii controller stuffed into his equipment belt. He does it all, whether silently drawing on the screen a reminder to the audience to shut off cellphones or supplying the musical accompaniment by strumming a ukulele as he sings to Alvin's wife.

This well-travelled play from Down Under explores deep waters that offer much to behold.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 D5

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